December 11, 2012
‘Avoidant Attachment’ Adults Can Blame Parents For Intimacy Issues
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Do you have commitment phobia? A new study led by researchers at Tel Aviv University reveals that fear of committing to a relationship may be just one more thing to blame on your parents.
Dr. Sharon Dekel, a psychologist and researcher at the Bob Shapell School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University, and her colleague Professor Barry Farber of Columbia University studied the romantic history of 58 adults aged 22 to 28. They found that those who avoid committed romantic relationships are likely a product of unresponsive or over-intrusive parenting.
The study found that 22.4 percent of the participants could be categorized as "avoidant" when it came to their relationships. These individuals demonstrate anxiety about intimacy, reluctance to commit to or share with their partner, or a belief that their partner was "clingy." These participants also reported less personal satisfaction in their relationships than the participants who were determined to be secure in their relationships.
Recently published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, the goal of this study was to address the debate on "avoidant attachment," the tendency to avoid emotional intimacy in relationships. Dekel and Farber wanted to understand whether such behavior is due to innate personality traits, such as being a loner, or if it is a delayed reaction to unmet childhood needs.
While both secure and avoidant persons expressed a desire for intimacy in relationships, the study found that avoidant individuals are conflicted about this need due to the complicated parent-child dynamics of their youth.
Dr. Dekel says that their research is based on an idea known as attachment theory. Attachment theory is the idea that during times of stress, infants seek proximity to their caregivers for emotional support. If the caregiver is unresponsive or overly intrusive, however, the infant learns to avoid them.
Some psychologists — including this team of researchers — believe that adult relationships can reflect these early child-parent experiences. People whose needs were met as a child tend to approach adult relationships from a place of security, seeking intimacy, sharing, caring and fun. These secure relationships are labeled "two-adult" model relationships by the researchers. The relationships of avoidant persons, on the other hand, are labeled as "infant-mother" intimacy models. When the avoidant person enters a relationship in adulthood, they attempt to satisfy their unmet needs from childhood.
Dr. Dekel explains: "Avoidant individuals are looking for somebody to validate them, accept them as they are, can consistently meet their needs and remain calm — including not making a fuss about anything or getting caught up in their own personal issues."
Avoiding dependence on a partner is not an avoidance of intimacy for these people, Dekel adds — rather, it is a defense mechanism.
The team asserts that continuing the study of such avoidant persons is important, claiming that beyond their severely diminished ability to conduct satisfying romantic relationships, they are also less happy in their lives and are more likely to suffer illnesses than their secure counterparts. A better understanding of what these insecure individuals need, perhaps through sophisticated neurological studies, will aid psychologists in helping them.
The team also questions whether these attachment issues are permanent, believing that there are some experiences which can help such persons develop more secure relationship styles.
In a previous study published in the Journal of Psychological Trauma, Dekel observed that after experiencing a traumatic event, some survivors show a greater ability and desire to form closer relationships. Dekel, an expert in the field of trauma recovery and post-traumatic growth who has worked with patients in Israel and abroad to overcome traumatic events, is beginning to study this phenomenon in greater depth.